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A moving story, told in Ken Blanchard's appealing parable style, of how a local church can be either a blessing or a curse to their community.
The Most Loving Place in Town is the story of two men, a disillusioned church elder and a gifted young pastor, who recognize that their church has lost sight of its number one priority: loving God and each other. They begin a search, independently at first, to recapture their lost love and then together lead their fellowship in a ...
A moving story, told in Ken Blanchard's appealing parable style, of how a local church can be either a blessing or a curse to their community.
The Most Loving Place in Town is the story of two men, a disillusioned church elder and a gifted young pastor, who recognize that their church has lost sight of its number one priority: loving God and each other. They begin a search, independently at first, to recapture their lost love and then together lead their fellowship in a successful discovery of the secret to becoming a beacon of love in their community. By the end of the story you clearly see and understand why this secret, so simple yet so profound, is vital and how to apply it to your own life and the life of your church.
"Thank the Lord for term limits," Tim Manning muttered to himself as he looked down at the agenda from last night's meeting of the Beacon Hill Community Church Elder Council. Three months from finishing his third consecutive two-year term as church chairman, Tim was ineligible to serve a fourth term. Although ambivalent about leaving office, he had to admit that it was good that he go. He still cared passionately about the church and was gratified by many things that had happened during his term in office. But he was worn out. After eighty-two council meetings, twenty-three congregational business meetings, and countless daily phone calls, e-mails, and coffee-shop meetings, he was ready to turn over leadership responsibilities to the next "suffering servant."
Tim had no idea that his most important leadership journey with the church would begin in a matter of moments.
As Tim reviewed the agenda, he paused at the third item: "Beacon Hill 30th Anniversary Celebration-Planning Update." It was a bit unusual to hold a thirtieth anniversary celebration. But his predecessor had abruptly shelved plans for a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration when the head pastor was fired for participating in local demonstrations against the war. The extreme tension that had permeated the church at that time precluded any attempts at joyful celebration.
In the aftermath, attendance had dropped. There was a significant loss of financial support when some long-term members left the church over the pastor's firing. Budget talks became competitive, contentious, and sometimes downright nasty.
As the new incoming chairman, Tim, along with the rest of the leadership team, had spent a lot of time and effort to prevent an out-and-out split in the church. Emotions ran high. Walls went up between the opposing sides of the decision to fire the pastor. When the furor calmed down, cold politeness froze over an undercurrent of deep anger and hurt. It had been a time of testing that brought Tim to his knees, asking God for the patience and wisdom not to respond out of his own pride, fear, and frustration.
With the passage of time and the departure of some of the more bitter members of the congregation, the church slowly began to heal. The arrival of Mike Reston, a gifted young pastor with clear doctrine and an engaging preaching style, further buoyed up the spirits of the congregation. When an auto parts plant opened nearby, an influx of new people into the area gradually restored weekend attendance to former levels. Giving increased with the turnaround in the stock market, and the health of the balance sheet vastly improved.
Today Tim believed that the church was again strong. It was certainly buzzing with activity. Something was going on every night. Bible studies, support groups, commission meetings, and the annual surges of activity centered on the Christmas and Easter pageants left little time for idle hands. There had been such a positive change that Tim gladly had endorsed the idea to hold the Beacon Hill Community Church thirtieth anniversary celebration in the coming year.
As he thought about it, Tim could look back on a season of leadership when working hard, persevering, and keeping the gospel message alive and on track had borne fruit. He even secretly pictured himself receiving a "well done, good and faithful servant" for his efforts. He smiled and reviewed the rest of the agenda:
* Review of requests by three ministry commissions for improved funding in next year's budget * Recommendations from the Finance and Property Commission on delaying the reroofing of the Christian education building * Open discussion on how to better deal with the number of marriages in crisis * Results of negotiations between the leaders of the New Horizon Senior Sunday School Class and student ministries on switching meeting rooms * Plans for the National Day of Prayer
It contained the usual set of land mines but nothing Tim hadn't been able to handle. He had to admit that he had come down pretty hard on one of the younger elders who had suggested a delay in beginning the reroofing project. This was something Tim had his heart set on completing before his term of office was over. By the end of last night's meeting-after lots of active and sometimes heated conversations-all the issues had been resolved, and everyone had left in a good humor, more or less.
Just three more months of council meetings. Tim wondered what it would be like to have every other Tuesday night back. No more hurried suppers, over-the-speed-limit dashes to the church, and those wide-awake debriefings that delayed sleep and made Wednesday mornings at work a real challenge.
He noted that he would dearly miss the fellowship, devotional teaching, and prayer time that he shared with his fellow elders. Again, Tim smiled. He cared about these folks. As a group, including himself, they were not perfect. But God love them, they came together twice a month at the end of a hard day of working out in the world to do their best about God's business. They prayed together, laughed together, fought with each other, and by God's grace made their share of good, great, and not-so-great decisions together.
Still, Tim was looking forward to taking some time off with a sense of a job well done.
Feeling satisfied, Tim put aside the agenda and thumbed through the morning mail. His eyes went immediately to a handwritten envelope addressed to Tim Manning, BHCC Chairman. Usually items addressed to him in this manner contained one of two things-a complaint from a member of the congregation or, on rare occasions, a note of encouragement. He wondered what it would be this time.
The single sheet was written in a clear but unfamiliar hand. It read:
Dear Tim, I have been observing you and your season of leadership at Beacon Hill for many years and thought it important to write to you at this time. I have watched your hard work in guiding Beacon Hill out of a period of turmoil and challenge. You have endured a great deal and persevered with energy in creating a level of excitement and activity within the church. For all this I commend you and the other leaders who have worked with you.
Tim paused in his reading and thought, Wow! I was just hoping to get a "well done, good and faithful servant," and here it is in this morning's mail. He read on:
I'm writing to bring something important to your attention. You have lost your first love. You and Beacon Hill Community Church have drifted away from the love of God and one another as your first priority and into a pattern of success-driven busyness. If this serious situation is not turned around, it will destroy the church's credibility. Fear not, Tim. All is not lost. I am writing to encourage you to lead a change that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can be accomplished. If you accept the challenge to restore love into the life of the church by reviving the passion and humility that were present when the church was first starting out, you and Beacon Hill will receive blessings beyond your imagination. The way back must start with you. This letter is sent in love as always, with faith that what is required can be done. Your Truest Friend
Tim stared at the letter in disbelief. His thoughts quickly turned to frustration. While the writer had sugarcoated the feedback, Tim was convinced it came from one of the chronic critics he had learned to endure during his terms in office.
He frowned. "For ax grinders like this person, nothing is ever right," he said out loud. Silently he continued to rationalize.
Beacon Hill is far from being out of control, and a lot is being accomplished to further the kingdom, he thought. The numbers have turned around in the church's giving and attendance. The people of this church share a common cause in doing things in the Lord's name. There's a new sense of urgency. Things are on the move again!
With that off his chest, Tim tossed the letter into the wastebasket and began sorting through the rest of the mail. He always prided himself on keeping up with his regular mail as well as his e-mail. He was about to write some notes on the yellow legal pad he always kept at his desk when the phone rang.
Feeling mildly annoyed at the interruption, he answered with an abrupt "hello."
"Mr. Manning?" It was a woman's voice, and something in her tone told Tim this was not going to be good news.
"Yes," Tim said into the receiver, a cautious tone in his voice. "Who's this?"
"I don't know if you remember me, but my name is Dani Wilson. You might remember-you prayed with me after Sunday service a couple of months ago when I was worried about a singing audition I had coming up."
Regaining his composure, Tim took a breath and said, "I remember you well, Dani, and your beautiful singing voice. How did the audition go?"
"Sorry to say, I didn't get the part, but our prayer was answered in a different way. I got a job waiting tables that will pay my bills until the next opportunity comes along. So, thanks."
Tim remembered Dani's sparkle. "It's great to hear from you!" he said warmly. "To what do I owe the honor of your call?"
"I don't know how much of an honor it is," said Dani. "But I wanted to let you know that I've decided to look for another church. I was going to leave without saying anything, but since you were so nice to me, I felt I should let you know."
Her announcement caught Tim by surprise. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said after a pause. "Would you mind telling me why you're leaving?"
"It's, uh, kind of a long story," Dani said with hesitation. "But I guess the bottom line is that Beacon Hill isn't exactly the most loving place in town."
With that comment, Tim's discounting of the handwritten letter he'd tossed in the wastebasket was coming into question.
"Dani, I'd like to understand what led you to that conclusion. I'd really appreciate the chance to hear you out," said Tim kindly. "Don't be afraid to tell me the unfiltered truth. I hear it on good authority that the truth will set us free," he added with a chuckle.
There was a long pause before Dani broke the silence. "Don't get me wrong," she began. "I know people work real hard to make Beacon Hill a great church. It's just not the place for me, I guess."
"And why is that?" Tim asked.
"What it comes down to is that going to church at Beacon Hill doesn't make me feel closer to God. No offense, but sometimes I go away from there feeling farther away from God than I did before I arrived."
Another long pause followed. Tim felt a surge of defensiveness. The idea crossed his mind that Dani's failure to connect might be her personal problem and not a reflection of the church. He was shocked by his knee-jerk rejection of any feedback and his eagerness to place the blame back on Dani. "Did anything in particular happen that made you feel ... farther away from God after coming to church?" Tim asked.
Again, Dani was slow to answer. She finally continued, "It took me a long time to figure this out because it seems like the church is doing all the right things. The Bible teaching is good, the music during worship services is awesome, and there are an amazing number of programs and ministries. But somehow it feels like the activities are more important than God-or even the church members."
"Can you give me an example?"
"Sure. Following Pastor Mike's suggestion, I got involved in a small group. It wasn't a good experience. For one thing, it seemed like the leader was more interested in making sure we got through the lessons than sharing our hearts and connecting with each other. What really stuck in my mind was when one of the group members got down on me for the version of the Bible I was using. I felt more judged than loved."
This conversation was starting to feel heavy, but Tim pressed on. "Anything else?" he asked.
"When I volunteered to help out with the Christmas pageant, all I wanted to do was to serve God by making it the best pageant ever. I had so much enthusiasm at the beginning. But after a couple of weeks of being treated like I was a hired hand, I got discouraged. No one got back to me when I had questions or suggestions. And no one thanked me."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Tim. He opened his mouth to say more, but before he could get a word out, Dani continued.
"It's ironic that the theme of the pageant was 'Season of Kindness,'" she said. "I really want my church to feel like a place where I'm welcome and where people are genuinely glad to see me. This may sound like I'm whining, but it seems like you have to be an established member to get that kind of love."
Her statement was so close to what the letter had implied that Tim was stunned. "Is there anything else?" he asked, hoping there wasn't.
"I understand that not everybody can be involved in the music ministry, but God gave me a gift, Mr. Manning. I've been singing since I was four. My biggest joy is sharing my gift with others. I would love church to be a place where I could praise and worship God in song. Unfortunately that's not going to happen at Beacon Hill."
"Why not?" Tim asked.
"I auditioned, and they told me I had a great voice, but nobody ever got back to me. I know things like this slip through the cracks, but I'm tired of being one of those 'things.'"
"I'm sorry to hear that," Tim said again, feeling like a broken record. "Look, on behalf of the church, I really want to apologize. But most of all I want to thank you for caring enough to give me this feedback. It hasn't been comfortable, but it's been valuable. I'm going to look into what you've said because I hope to create a church where you'll feel more than welcome. Can I talk you into coming back and giving us another chance?"
After a short silence, Dani said, "I'll think about it. You've been really nice. I appreciate your taking the time to hear me out."
After they said their good-byes, Tim hung up the phone and slowly sat back in his chair, settling into a contemplative mood. All his visions of a hero's recognition for his leadership efforts quickly dissolved with the one-two punch he'd just gotten from the anonymous letter followed by Dani's call. Retrieving the letter from the wastebasket, he reread: "You and Beacon Hill Community Church have drifted away from the love of God and one another." Those words, combined with Dani's comment that "Beacon Hill isn't exactly the most loving place in town," stabbed him right in the heart. Why?
Because he knew in his gut they were right. The church buzzed with activity, but much of the love was gone. When and how had it happened? Why hadn't he and the other leaders seen that the love was missing?
Tim read the letter again, more slowly this time. Having lowered his defenses, he noted a number of things during this reading. The writer commended and encouraged him before confronting him. Unlike many complaints he'd received, this letter contained a concise statement of the problem and a specific recommendation of what needed to be done to make things right. He also appreciated the clear warning about the consequences of inaction. This letter was written in both truth and love. Tim was thankful that it included the encouraging message, "All is not lost." The writer had a positive expectation that the church not only could be saved from disaster but, in fact, could be better than ever. Unfortunately, he didn't get that same feeling from Dani's call even though she, too, had shared her feelings in both truth and love.
Now what? Tim thought. With Pastor Mike still away on his two-month sabbatical and the pulpit filled with guest speakers, Tim knew one thing for sure: it would be up to him to lead the search for the love that was missing from Beacon Hill Community Church. He knew he could not do it alone. He would need help. But where will that come from? he wondered.
Glancing at the letter once again, Tim was drawn to one sentence in particular: "I am writing to encourage you to lead a change that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can be accomplished."
Excerpted from THE MOST LOVING PLACE IN TOWN by Ken Blanchard Phil Hodges Copyright © 2008 by BFP, LP, and Phil Hodges. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 16, 2011
Posted November 24, 2008
Every church member should read this book and begin immediately applying its simple truths. Christ showed us how to Love God and Love others- now its our turn to live it out. <BR/>-Wouldn't it be amazing if people were attracted back to church because it really was The Most Loving Place in Town? <BR/>-Wouldn't if be amazing they really knew we were Christians by our Love? <BR/>This book is easy to read but forces you to dig down deep and really address what Jesus meant by loving our neighbors and how to Lead Like Jesus. Every Christian needs to read and apply its simple truths about LOVE. Marjorie DorrWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.